GOING INTO LABOR
Mammoth has seen a significant shortage in labor recently.
Although this is a multi-faceted issue, it relates heavily to the decrease in affordable housing in town.
The Sheet spoke with various small business owners and managers in Mammoth to hear their experiences with the issue.
This includes the managers of Kittredge Sports and P3 Freeride Ski and Snowboard Shop, who said that they’ve been having problems finding staff for years now.
What was at one time the quintessential ski bum job, one where a person could afford to move to Mammoth and work at Kittredge full-time while enjoying the perks of a free mountain pass and equipment discounts, it is no longer is attracting such a crowd.
“There are simply less ski bums now” says Preston Morrow, long-time employee of Kittredge. He expects this trend to continue, as there appears to be less young people around who are entering that lifestyle.
He believes this is due to, in part, a lack of available housing.
According to Kittredge and P3 owner Tom Cage, the housing scarcity is likely due to available housing morphing with Airbnbs, as well as people buying second properties in Mammoth and then not renting them out as they once did because they don’t need to.
That trend limits who is able to live in Mammoth.
Business owners have found themselves having to reduce their hours of operation and assign more hours to the few employees they do have, in many cases having to pay them overtime, further driving up expenses.
However, there seems to be another, more generational issue too, at least according to some.
Cage, for one, has noticed that many of the young adults in Mammoth don’t have the same work ethic as past generations, and has found himself hiring first-generation high school students because they work harder – even if they have less experience skiing or boarding.
The young people he referred to fall into the “self-entitled millennial” stereotype – one who wakes up hungover every day, unable to work productively, and then goes to the bar every night and spends $30 on beer while complaining about how they have no money.
On the flip side, one can imagine how not being able to afford housing and being forced to live out of one’s car could affect one’s motivation to be a productive worker.
This by no means is a localized issue: businesses across the country are encountering difficulties in the hiring process.
The reasons given for the difficulties include increased unemployment benefits, health concerns, child care concerns, and low wages.
Some solutions put forth include wage increases, signing bonsues, and expanded opportunities for child care/education,
Mammoth’s business owners are doing what they can to be aggressive and enthusiastic in incentivizing workers, but the housing market remains far out of what they can control. There used to be lists and lists of available housing for the public; that doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s putting both employers and potential employees in a very tough spot.
There are currently 39 total job openings listed on the Chamber of Commerce’s website. Although this is down from the approximate 60 openings available during the March 15-April 15 job fair, the need for workers is significantly higher than what Mammoth typically sees.
A quick browse of The Sheet’s own classifieds page reveals plenty of businesses in search of employees.
Brianna Goico, Membership & Marketing Manager at the Chamber, pointed towards the lack of affordable housing as a primary cause for such a shortage of workers.
The Mono County Grand Jury annual report released Tuesday features a special report titled “Workforce Housing Crisis.”
For Brandon Brocia, owner/operator of Bleu Handcrafted Foods and the Eatery at Mammoth Brewing Company, the hiring process is well into its fourth month.
He related one instance where he was able to hire a former employee, who had since moved away, back to work at one of his establishments.
“They accepted the job and could not, for the life of them, find a place to live,” Brocia said. “The job was taken for a month and a half and they declined two weeks before starting.”
In other instances, Brocia related, a local couple will break up while living together. When they are unable to find an affordable place to live on a single salary, they opt to move.
Brocia said that between second homeowners spending more time locally and buyers purchasing available units, available housing in Mammoth is scarce.
“We’ve got this project [The Parcel] going on that the Town has stimulated but it can’t come fast enough,” Brocia said, “By the time it comes, it may not be enough, we may have surpassed that need.”
Brocia said that he had not had many applicants for open positions; things had gotten to the point where Brocia was preparing to fill in as a bartender before someone applied for the position.
The biggest work pool in town, he said, is graduated high school seniors looking to make some money before they move on to post-graduate plans. For many from that group, these are their first jobs.
Although high school grads are willing to work, they only serve as a short-term solution. When they eventually leave for school or to follow career goals, those jobs will once again need to be filled.
“The pandemic kind of showed the instability of restaurant work to a degree that we’ve never seen before,” Brocia said, “and it’s pushing people to pursue other opportunities.”
“People are hiring people that they would never hire before because they’ve been 86’d from other restaurants for poor performance,” Brocia added.
Public House manager Sean Jackson has had similar issues with applicants.
Jackson explained that Public House hasn’t necessarily had a hard time finding new workers, but instead a problem keeping them.
They’ve been seeing people go through the initial hiring/interview process in order to qualify for unemployment benefits, and then not actually ever show up for their shifts.
Brocia expressed worries that the shortages would result in an inability to meet guest demand, resulting in upset customers and burned-out staff trying to keep up.
“We’re just looking at a holding-on-for-dear-life scenario,” he said.
At Tonik Fashion Boutique, “no one is even coming in [to apply],” said owner Kristi Rowley, who has been looking to hire additional staff for more than a month with no success. In the past, she added, there hadn’t been any issues with hiring new staff.
Rowley theorized that Mammoth Mountain closing down operations for the summer would’ve left a number of people looking for jobs in town, but that group has not materialized.
Like Brocia, Rowley has current employees leaving at the end of the summer. However, those departing are long-time employees whose experience and skills will be difficult to replace.
With no applicants walking through the door, Rowley has had to limit the store’s hours given the small staff she has remaining.
Maybe, she wondered, the pandemic is making younger folks appreciate having time to be outside, to socialize. But for Rowley, it’s anything but relaxing.
“My anxiety is off the charts,” she continued, “But I have to be hopeful. I can’t run this place by myself or with one or two people.”